Thursday, June 30, 2011

Addi(c)tions


Ok, so now I want to do something to change up the format a little. I am going to add a random or semi-random (probably more just unrelated to the post) image culled from the annals of the Wikimedia commons to each of my posts. I think a little flair could be nice.

Let's be honest, wading through the chunks of text that I try to pass off as interesting is, well, just the opposite. I will add only Creative Commons or open-source images so I don't have to worry about the FBI knocking at my door—at least not for anything related to that.

Why am I adding more work for myself? Because I want to be popular. Really. And because Megan's blog is pretty cool with her crazy fun facts about the elements, I thought I would try to outdo her a bit (seriously, vanadium could have been a fun fact in itself).

So, to make my challenge a little more challenging, on days I don't post my own images that I created, I will be adding other images created by cooler people.

Oh, and I'll add another bit. Anyone who submits me a photo from any of the many ways to get in touch with me, can have the image posted and I will also add a little dedication to go along with it. I really want to have something interactive about this place. I feel like I'm shooting into dead-space. I want to know people are out there, and that they care.

That sounded needy. But I think that you get what I'm saying. The world is a big place. The world is a small place. It's crowded too. But sometimes people feel alone. Even I do sometimes. And I have lots of friends. Facebook says so.

I also am contemplating the move to Twitter. I'm not sure that's a good idea. 140 characters seems too artificial. I'm not one to adhere well to artificial structures—365 is more of a suggestion than a rule. But it could drastically increase my appeal on the web, and I'm sure I will have a gem or two. Is it worth the extra expenditure of energy to join a world that is nose pressed to the phone telling people all about the life I'm not living?

I'm a little cynical you see. I'll continue to muse a bit.

Apathy Vomit

Mama and her cat Kerry have a language. That's what she tells me. At dinner tonight, she showed me. Kerry walked up to Mama's chair, got up on her hind legs and reached her paws out to touch her arm. She does this sometimes. It is a tender moment. Mama usually responds by telling Kerry in her southern drawl, “no, you already ate.”

Kerry went to the door and looked out. I tried to let her out but Mama said that she only wants out when she mews. Sure enough, Kerry walked away when I opened the door. After dinner Mama fed Kerry a little bit. Kerry seemed happy about that.

I found a cool way of cooking potatoes today. I call it, “Better than Baked Potatoes.” You need only a couple things. Potatoes, olive oil, water, and some seasoning of your choice. Take some russet potatoes and boil them in a pot for about 30-40 minutes. Just until they are soft all the way through. Cut the potatoes down their length in half. Then put some olive oil in a pan, enough to cover the bottom. Put the potatoes flat face down on medium heat in the pan. Toss in salt or other seasonings and pour a little more oil over the skins. When the potatoes are brown on the flat side, flip them and turn the heat down to low, this should take about 8-10 minutes. Cook your other dishes. Serve and eat like baked potatoes.

I am thinking of submitting some of my writing to literary magazines. My Dad thinks it's a good idea. If any of the few people who are out there reading have an opinion, please tell me. Thoughts on a magazine? Thoughts on a specific submission? I'm loose and fast about this whole thing. I don't know what I'm doing.

Also, I am well aware of how my writing comes and goes, I believe it is the curse of writing everyday. Sometimes I'm on, other times I am just trying to finish the entry. I use the word 'just' too much. I think it's like an excuse almost. I'm just doing blank. Don't fault me because whatever you think is just a misconception. Just. It justifies things for me.

Is sci-fi really fantasy? They are both equally made up and technology begins to look a lot like magic in many stories. JK Rowling is an inconsistent writer. She is compelling and I like reading HP. But some things don't make much sense. Especially the arc of the entire series. The tones change so drastically and the annual appearance of Voldemort becomes so much more evil that one can hardly recognize the 7th book as part of the same series as the 1st book.

It is like Star Wars fans. They hate George Lucas because he is a crap writer exploiting the franchise for every last dime he can squeeze out of it. But he created a universe bigger than him, and people love that. I feel that to a lesser degree that is how it will be with Rowling's world.

I don't know. I'm just trying to get to 365 words.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Split-second Future

A short story (or really like the premise of something better):

I can see into the future. Just a little bit. I can't see if you will have three kids or if you are going to get cancer. I can see about a half second into the future. I timed it once. Which was actually quite easy. Just start a stopwatch.

I was really good at sports because of it. I can react to everything before it even happens. It made me a natural athlete. I was so good at soccer that by the time I was 13 pro-teams wanted me. I turned them down. I didn't want to leave the security of the life I knew.

I was really bad at relationships. A half second is no way to pre-empt the words coming out of your mouth. It is no way to stop anything emotionally bad from happening.

I was really bad at being a student too. When I say that I can see into the future; I mean that all of my senses reach into the future. And not on command. They are on all the time. And it's not precise either. The best I can tell, it works on probability, I can sense (with all of my senses) the most likely three or four futures. People look fuzzy unless they stay still for more than a half second, which they rarely do. Same goes for everything in motion. Which means that I have an echo and a delay in response. Especially with sounds. Sounds are the worst. I was a crap student. I had a speech impediment until I was fourteen—still kind of have one—and I couldn't listen for the life of me.

The world sounds like a perpetual echo, and echoes sound like an eternity for me. I'm not sure if this is a gift sometimes. I hate watching movies. Everything about them makes me nauseous. But I love comic-books. It's what movies were supposed to be for normal people. And I got way into superhero stuff. Because it made sense. I had something no one else had. And unlike the mutants in the real world who merely had extra toes, I had something that could actually stop crime. I could be a good guy.

I was 24 when I decided to start it all. Maybe I should have taken karate or something. Maybe I should have thought it through a bit more. Instead, I decided that the best way to go about it all was to just hop in. I should have known. A half second isn't enough time to react to a bullet in the back of the leg. I was lucky they ran away. I dragged myself to the hospital.

By the way, spandex sucks. It's not bulletproof and it makes you stand out like a neon red target in a fight. Super-heroes have the advantage of being impervious. I did not. I changed my get up. I needed to make a suit that worked with my 'super-powers'. The solution I came up with was a set of goggles that gave me 300 degrees of view at any given time. They looked goofy and nearly covered my face completely but they worked. The next thing I did was I added long fibers. These extended my half second of vision. Whenever the fibers were disturbed a half second in the future, I could feel them, it was like the whiskers on a cat. I had created a spidey-sense for myself. Only it made me look kind of fuzzy.

My life was starting to get fuzzy. I didn't really know what I was doing. It takes a lot to catch a crime in action. I spent hours just walking around the city, looking for ways to bust crime. The truth was that crime was at an all time low. The real embezzlements had been legalized—Wall-Street was making off with billions while I dressed up like a beetle with a frizz problem. That's when I had my real crisis.

What good is a superpower when it's not about petty crime or spandex or even taking down mobsters? Unless my superpower was to get people to be rational and altruistic, I had nothing to offer the world. I slipped into the shadows. I was not endowed with any gift. I was given a curse. A power for which there was no outlet and a world not designed for my childish fantasies. And I accepted what everyone else knew, no one can look into the future. Not even a little bit.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Real World: Portland

I live in my grandmother's house. I am a grown man. This is my life. I've stopped being polite and started getting real. This is the Real World Portland.

I it's ok though, my cousin lives here too. I think that makes it better because I haven't unpacked and he has flaming hot cheetos smashed into his carpet. Does that help?

I live with my girlfriend. But she sleeps in a different room. Sometimes her feet smell—like roses. But that's because she's ok with me saying they smell like roses; not something else—like butterflies.

My grandmother walks around the house. We call her Mama, but it's supposed to be spelled Maman. My oldest cousin didn't deign to inform the rest of us that was the way she spelled and pronounced it. Hence every other cousin says Mama. She is a southern lady. And she doesn't like to cook really. She can't hear too well and naps a lot.

There's a cat here, her name is Kerry. She is skinny like Mama. Kerry likes to go in and out at five minute intervals. Kerry is always hungry or wants to sit in the seat you are in. There are squirrels too. The squirrels come to the door and knock on it so that Mama will feed them.

Mama likes to feed the squirrels and birds. Mama does a few things. She solves the crossword. She takes her morning bath. She watches her one TV show. She naps at least 2 or 3 times a day. She reads her book. And she says, “what? Ah didn't heaa y'all.” She also gets a lot of phone calls. I hope that when I am 82 that I am as popular as her.

David works from 10pm to 6am some days. He's a security guard. He likes his hookah and the firepit in the backyard. His birthday is on the 4th of July. He loves video games. Sometimes he wakes me up at 3 in the morning (on nights that he isn't working) because he is screaming profanities into his microphone.

Ciera and I try to exercise. Ciera does it more than me. I'm what most people call lazy. It isn't helping me get a job.

This summer is gray and cold. I would have thought that the weather would have at least provided me with something to look forward to. C'est la vie. This is the real world.

Something Post-Grad

A short story:

I was one of the lucky ones. It's a recession and I had the luck, or maybe just the connections to land a job as an assistant at a small advertising firm. I had the luck, or maybe just the attachment of a friend from college who moved in with me. And graduating wasn't so bad with all that in my future. But now I'm living the future. And it is summer in the city of Chicago. It's so hot, and the miles of roadways make for commutes that make me want to cut my fingers off one-by-one just to get there a bit earlier.

The advertising firm isn't bad. They mostly do ads for national companies that no one cares about. And my boss isn't too bad either. In fact she seems to really like me. She did spill coffee on me the first time we met though. That was two weeks ago. I'm starting to settle into the life. At least I hope I am. Who knows. The apartment is still basically empty. We have started taking the boxes from my friend's work—he works for a vegan meat substitute plant (so much for that psych degree)--and using them as pseudo furniture. It doesn't look bad. We found some spray paint and covered our boxes in a shiny red in the alley last week. They are now most of our surfaces.

The radio blasts as I sit in traffic. I am listening to Camera Obscura; French Navy has been stuck in my head since I first heard the song. I sing along a bit, missing the high notes—actually all of the notes. But that's ok, the car is like my own personal judgment free recording studio. And I don't care what anyone in the other cars thinks; I have seen them pick their nose like those window were tinted.

When I get home the place is a mess. But that's actually my word for clean these days. I'm going out tonight. My friend, John, is actually a native of the area and he knows of some places to go. I am excited to start meeting people again. I have the good fortune, or maybe it's just my connections, to not be lonely in a big city.

We all meet at a bar, some run-down place that smells a bit like mustard. But the beers are cheap and the darts set is free. I ask if anyone wants to play and a short-haired friend of John's, Lily, says she's up for a round or two. I'm not sure if she's flirting with me at first. Then when she awkwardly makes reference to the musculature of my arms, I pretty much get it. I'm no good at flirting. Instead I play darts with her for a half-hour thoroughly beating her in the process. Her competitive spirit kept her in the game but the fact that she was losing really shows on her face.

I offer to buy her a beer to cheer her up. Instead she runs over to John and starts complaining about how much of a downer I am. I look at him and shrug, “I guess my competitiveness got the best of me.”

He smiles and waves Lily off, “let him buy you a beer, he looks a bit forlorn.” Forlorn? Who uses that word? John can be a bit pretentious sometimes. It seems to work though and Lily and I sort of hit it off. She took a year off and is going to graduate in the fall semester.

That world seems so distant. The fall semester. College. Where is that? I drift into thought for a sec, and when I come to, Lily's eyes are staring wide at me and she has on a demure smile. I tilt my head forward the slightest, and then come to a little. “Do you want to get out of here?” I must be drunk, I'm never that forward.

She looks around, looks back at me and says, “interesting proposal. How about this, I have a big weekend with my family. Give me your phone and call me some other time.”

I took my phone back from her and raised my glass. “Cheers.”

“To what?” She asked.

“I dunno. Something.”

Mindvertisements

Quote from The Week, “Teens were no good at guessing which songs would do well. Their brain scans, on the other hand, often registered excitement for many of the songs that did become commercially successful—even if the teens said they didn't really like the songs. The results are further proof that consumers may not be aware of—or at least want to admit—what they like. A new field of research—neuroeconomics--studies just that phenomenon, anticipating popular trends by surveying gray matter.”

A couple entries ago I wrote a story where the most absurd part seemed to be not the teleportation of people to other locations but the reading of people's minds. Further, the most egregious of my transgressions appeared to be the suggestion that some corporation will make people feel or think things in the future. It appears I was wrong. We are starting to unlock the mind. And a new field of study, derived from the prevailing capitalistic mentality is aptly called neuroeconomics—the study of the brain to deduce what has economic potential. One of the major premises is that sellers have stopped trusting people to tell them the truth. They now bypass the word of the horse's mouth and go straight to the spark of neurons in the horse's brain.

Let me be clear, we are starting to read minds. Primitively, it's like an enormous picture book to us. A vague and hazy shot of something very complex, but we are deducing a lot from that snapshot. And we aren't using it to make us truly happier. We aren't using it to unlock enlightenment of sorts. We are using it to sell music. Bad music. And probably worse.

I don't protest it really. If people can tailor a product to better fit my needs then that sounds great. And all of the subjects are volunteers adequately compensated. It's not like you can run around with a mind reader gun and zap anyone.

Go ahead and do that. My main objection is that it seems to be a waste of money. Why do we even need more stuff? Being hip and on the cutting edge is no philosophy. It does not overlook any higher calling, it is the height of self-indulgence to believe that external stimuli will keep you happy and popular. What we needs resides within ourselves. We are now starting to read parts of the code that can hold keys to truly fulfilling lives, and I can tell you right now it isn't in a shiny white package with an apple logo on it. That door has been unlocked and I can tell you right now, an iPad still won't let you plug in USB devices; let alone bring you happiness.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Past Participle

I'm going to brag for a second. I have an entry for every day of this year so far. 174, 175 after this, entries that give me a timeline of events. It is a history of my life this year. It is of course incomplete, but nothing can truly be complete. But it gives me a snapshot into my life, something so fluid I often forget that things were there in the first place. Capturing the transitory moments that life is made of is of course impossible. But I am getting something from this. And I am so proud of myself in this moment.

And sad. To look on the changes that have occurred in a half-year (granted this year is particularly full of changes) is extremely emotional. I can look at what I have done and proudly say. That was me that day. This entire thing was me that year. And this whole project is me.

I can't express every moment I live, but I have the opportunity to see in words that I am trying to speak to the future. And somehow I am sending something forward. There to be consumed by whoever needs it. I am giving some of myself away. And I am so happy that I can even do it.

I think it is reasonable to take pride in a body of work. I think everyone should take pride in their work and I think that I deserve to be happy for the honest moments that shine through my the emotionless words on the screen.

Ciera has been reading the Harry Potter books from 5 to 7 so she is ready for the big showdown. And this is a recollecting of the past in another way. A remembering of moments shared. Rereading a book is what I do when I look through my past entries. Except the book isn't filled with magic. Just me. And I know that is boring to most people. But I am happy to have something of me.

Others keep trinkets of their childhood. Some take pictures. Some get awards. Still others reminisce with friends. I love it when people comment on my blogs. It is the opportunity to build that moment a little firmer, a little bigger, with a community that cares.

So while I take pride in what I write, I also want peoples perspectives. Their snapshots on the moments I present.

As always, thanks for letting me ramble.

Happy Arcs

I have trouble making my life a compelling story. People like to be happy but don't really like to read about happiness. I actually propose that people prefer to peek into the dysfunctional features of unfulfilled lives far more than they think they do. It is the train wreck effect. But more than that it is the relief effect.

We escape into the fantasy worlds that are the stories we consume to find out that we are better than the characters portrayed. We don't have to face the danger of the situations. We don't have to do or be anything that we read about. The best part about a story is that it portrays the world in some way below us. When we can comfortably walk away and say “I'm better than that” then we are safe in the fantasy we have constructed.

And that's why we don't like anything without conflict. What is the fun in a happy family that lives a life that we dream of? I venture to guess none. And my life is without conflict right now. At least nothing I can make compelling. And my life isn't a dream. That is a blatant lie. But I am happy and to report on the mundanities of a life of satisfaction is to bore the reader into a coma. I find myself content.

And no one writes a story where that is the entire arc. Nostalgia cannot be the entire premise behind the story. We, as people attached to drama, attached to catharsis, attached to the base human, cannot find the happy moment equivalent to the story. Think of it, who tells a story about how happy they are and have an audience enthralled by the concept?

If I were to describe the happiest moments of my life with the people I love, people would react with a misty-eyed quality. They would inquire as to its reality, and ultimately they will ask the juicy question. Why didn't that last? And that would be where the blockbuster starts. And that is what we care about.

So. Here stands my story for the day. I woke up after passing some quality time with my cousin by the fire, I helped my grandfather learn to use the computer, I spent time with my grandparents, and I ended the day sampling beers with my beautiful girlfriend.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

BCC:

A short story:

I'm no technophobe, don't get me wrong. There's something about these new machines. They freak me out; always have. A lot. Everyone says they are safe. But that's because they aren't thinking.

But I've seen those old Star Trek episodes, and I know the truth. They kill you. And they turn you into a drone. They say they don't store any of your information, that it's a blind transfer. But I know better. They know how to make a man appear anywhere one of these contraptions exists. That should be proof enough that this is ungodly.

They say it's a simple matter of quantum entanglement and data transfer. That all they do is recompose the bits we are made out of into a new space instantaneously. They say it is painless, that the coding process is a perfect transfer of information to the new location.

That's just a fanciful way of saying we are dealing with things beyond our capacity to know. Teleportation. It's a load of crap. Look at the evidence; this is all that they have ever told me—the public too.

They use two teleporters with the core particles that transfer the information quantumly entangled with each other. This is across all of the teleporters, so that means that whenever they add a new station they have to use their expensive process all over again to create cores that are entangled with each other. Now, that works at the basic level of transferring information between the teleporters. But what is that information? It is every atom that makes up your being. At least it is supposed to be. What they do to scan your information is they shoot electrons at you. That's right, light beams. But they don't just shoot a little laser light. They shoot enough concentrated electron energy at you to vaporize you in 1/15th of a second. Then that information is processed faster than all of the atoms in the room can decompose and that information is fed through the core and you are printed out at the other teleporter. Bear in mind that the printing process begins before your atoms dissipate completely in teleporter A.

The printing process in teleporter B is a little messier than they would like to admit. They reconstruct you in the exact opposite way that you were deconstructed. They use hyper powerful lasers to compress and mold their liquid compound they call vitae into an identical copy of you. This copy is given a little spark and to the world, you have been teleported. To the person that took a step into teleporter A, you have been killed.

And that's because not even the information that was you is even transferred between the two teleporters. No, a copy of you is made in teleporter A and translated into the language that the teleporters can understand. In teleporter A, you are killed and translated into a copy. That copy is copied to the other teleporter where it is translated again. All of it, instantly.

And so you die. And you pay big bucks to die.

And they say that your information is erased immediately. That they wouldn't want to store your information. They say that they can't mess around with the printing process. That you can't be teleported with an arm on your head or a sudden desire to buy all of their products.

But that's why I'm telling you all this now. That's why I'm talking to you at all about some complex technology. Because they lied. And I'm the criminal. I tried to blow-up their basement. But it was worse than I had imagined.

I had found a way into their computer systems. It took all my money just for that. Once I was in I discovered precisely what I had suspected all along. They weren't just teleporting they were storing. And they were in business big time. Early in the experiments they had found that type A blood had difficulty teleporting more so than other types for some reason. To counter that, they stored a type A blood program into all the teleporters. Everyone with type A blood actually was getting printed with one person's (subject #33852 to be precise) bone-marrow and blood. They figured that it would work just fine. Those were parts of medical procedures that had been done for hundreds of years. But with that technology the CEOs found a much more useful one. The storing of people.

The CEO took this new breakthrough to the US Military. The US saw it as an opportunity to make a cheap army. The vitae solution was actually quite easy to produce, being mostly sea water, the US could build soldiers out of the ocean—literally. Teleportation was now cheap cloning.

But it didn't stop there, no. The complex process of teleporting a body is nothing to reconstituting a brain. In learning how to get the synapses to fire correctly in the printing process, the research team came across the ability to do two things: read minds, and manipulate minds. They could read every last perverted memory or thought that had deigned to store itself in a persons brain, and they could change the firing of synapses to make any new memory they wanted. The US now had a perfect military. An endless cheap army of obedient mercenaries.

To keep this massive operation secure, they built 30 stories below the headquarters of the corporation that were unknown to anyone but the highest officials in the military as well as the corporation.

I was able to blow up about 2 stories and found something much worse. They weren't just storing the imprints of soldiers that were teleporting onto our distant battlefields, they were storing everyone who went through those godforsaken machines. And they were changing the minds of everyone without remorse. It started simply, a buy more algorithm. But soon they were creating obedience algorithms and ideology algorithms. They even ran a love algorithm just to see who they could mess up.

So here I am. I am about to be transferred to my first court appearance half a world away. And I'm not going to fly, I'm going to teleport. They are going to kill me. So don't be surprised if I sound like a maniac. Or even worse, if they make me their advocate.

One more thing, in the copying process I found out that if they dim the intensity by even the slightest, they can still make the copy, but the person in the machine can suffer horrible pain from being fried. So this little note is my sign-off and I doubt a soul will find it or even believe me, but I can tell you now that the world we thought we knew is over. And this new world is just an ersatz copy; a blind transfer of what once was.

Grandpa's Grammer

My grandfather started making a Facebook page, but like most things he signs up for on the internet, he became bored with it and has not completed his profile. I am constantly reminded of this fact when he pops up on my sidebar and it shows a picture of him. The picture is of an old man, slightly bewildered, and kind of shrinking away from the camera. I don't know why he chose this as his profile picture. Anyway, the sidebar photo implores me to “help him find his friends.”

My grandmother once said to him, “you don't have any friends, they are all dead.”

Shakespeare never spelled his name that way. In fact, English as a language is wholly without authority of any real context. That is the beauty of the language. Most of the rules and regulations that have been passed off as concrete in our classrooms are little more than very solid opinions that live on a very slippery path and slide around gratuitously. In fact, as long as it is intelligible, almost anything can be said to be English. It is a built in irony that our English teachers never deigned to mention that the “rules” are just as bad as the exceptions we often take for granted.

Shakespeare wrote his name as Shakspere and Shakspeare but never Shakespeare. Think about that for a second. But wait a sec Nick, what about dictionaries, surely they present a standardized spelling that everyone uses right? Yeah, but only sort of. You see, dictionaries in the English language tend to be authoritative only to the degree that they record events instead of delegate rules. Dictionaries exist as a way to put into text a reference for what is happening in the world, and not a way to decide what should be. In point of fact, many spellings change and definitions are similarly lacking to a large degree. Just look at how we colloquially spell “yeah” as “yea, ya, and yeh.” None of the spellings are wrong and all adequately convey what we are trying to say. Spelling for the most part is democratically dictated.

For a more in-depth and exciting look at what I am talking about, take a look at Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. The point that I am trying to make is that grammar Nazis really have no business in our business. Granted I can be one, but the conveyance of points is superseded by any arbitrary rules, that if adequately researched, are found to have no ground. No one that speaks English gets to make the rules alone. So use double-negatives, ain't, and mispellings (that was misspelled). No one should care, English is a free language in a free country.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Live: EM:Weightloss

I am live-blogging Extreme Makeover: Weightloss Edition. The guy weighed at one point 720 lbs. And he broke the tile on the floor he is so heavy.

Some jacked motivational personal trainer just surprised the big guy (BFG). BFG is crying now. They start out at a “boot camp” which is actually a five-star hotel. People over 400lbs can't be weighed on a regular scale; they have to be weighed on a freight scale. He starts at 651 lbs. That's a lot. This is kind of sexual.

Ciera is liking it, she was so skeptical at first. But let's be honest here, she is an avid watcher of the Bachelorette. And that one is definitely skeezy on the highest level.

ABC's programming is mostly crap, their summer game show line-up and reality shows look awesome though. But when I say awesome I really mean that it is the train crash factor. We are all rubber-neckers sticking our faces out the window to watch the train crash before our eyes.

The new verizon droid commercials are really annoying. Buy stuff because you can't figure out life without being constantly wired.

Combat hospital is an example of bad ABC programming. Sex, war, surgery, and heroes. Real actors portraying sexy young hero-troops.

“Especially with the Super-Obese...The larger they are the faster they can lose.” That's why I only race people that are over 380 lbs.

This guy is 26 years old. I am a mere 4 years younger. That is a world I can't imagine. The trainer lives with him for three months. Think of that. The guy that yells at you at the gym and is all happy go lucky about your weight is living with you 24/7. I would never want that. Shoot me before that happens.

I know I've said this about Harry Potter trailers but it is so true. Every HP trailer goes like this:
Voldemort (whispers): Harry Potter
Some mentor: Harry Potter?
Voldemort: Yeargh!
Harry Potter: Yeaaargh!
Voldemort: eeaaaarrrg!
Harry Potter: greaaaaarggggh!
(Explosions!)
Harry Potter theme.

This guy is really cool. He has tats, I wonder how they stretch and compress as you gain and lose weight. This trainer is kind of a bro with a nasally voice. His shirt is like a bed sheet. I could swaddle my grandmother in that and she would get lost in its sweaty folds.

Samsung tablet add just had a guy in the middle of a beautiful setting looking at his goddamn tech. What are we?

The girl on the local news, the one being interviewed, has a huge Snooki bump. Like ridiculous.

Whenever I brush my teeth I immediately realize I have to pee. Does anyone else get that?

I know why I have never live blogged before, I become way too cynical about everything.

“Dude this is actually really cool to see” said Ciera. We have ourselves a convert. Elissa Nadworny told me about her love of weight-loss shows. I actually got addicted. America has a thing for transformations. We love to see a completely new home in the place of the shack that was there. We love to see a skinny bitch where there was a fat kid. We love to see a clean home where there was a cluttered home filled with cats. America is about the life-changing transformation. Think about it.

Day 270. The guy is still obese but he has already gained a huge amount of energy. 257 lbs in 9 months. It's time for the final reveal, “move that bus!” Maybe that isn't appropriate for this show...

Looking at the before picture, he honestly looks like just a round blobby thing. Now he is cut and good looking. Somebody with energy and confidence. It is not that I think people should be skinny or whatever, it is that people deserve a quality of life that allows them to be who they want to be. When someone is severely obese that quality of life is severely diminished. Final weigh-in 313 lbs.

“One day you run out of excuses...oh, Jersey Shore is on tonight I gotta go fist bump,” BFG now known as James because I finally heard his name after an hour of watching.

Security and Interests: Suggestions

Now I will start conjecturing—which is code for none of what I suggest is binding, right, or absolute—and I think it is imperative to consider the possibilities that these approaches open up.

First, increase our special forces training. JFK emphasized it during his terms as president and many presidents since have seen the benefit in having highly trained units as opposed to raw numbers. Better training is as good a force multiplier as many of our improving technologies.

Second, add more humanitarian components to basic training for all units. Huge amounts of culture are transferred in war zones and natural disaster zones. If we trained our military to be distinguished ambassadors as well as experts in times of natural disaster, we would have a much stronger position on the hearts and minds. It is not just the platitudes, it is the boots that really transfer a culture and we should train our units as such. Further, we should use them for more humanitarian purposes. Imagine having the full force of the American military at any natural disaster zone within 48 hours of a disaster. If we want to spread Democracy and peace, helping nations in a state of disarray and dire need is the best time to do it.

Third, decrease spending on ineffective aid programs. The Westernized development programs that have been in use by many US agencies have had their shortcomings well documented and I will not elaborate here. It is enough to say that unless there is a major change in how our aid programs are implemented we will continue to brew bad blood with foreign nations. American aid should look to some of the successful programs of many NGOs out there and find a model that is scalable and workable. It is possible to gain favor with populations just through that kind of change.

Fourth, work out new national and international policies with foreign nations that target their goals for national security while helping draw down some of the enormous obligations that the US has taken on. I understand that is an expansive suggestion. But I suspect that many governments do not feel good about having the US so heavily present within their borders in much the same way that the US is uncomfortable being there. By working to find policies that fit the needs of both nations, I'm sure at least a little draw down is possible without any sacrifice of security.

Fifth, invest domestic. Some of our heaviest security investments are about maintaining our energy interests. America can find self-sufficient means to power itself. This will not happen overnight, and if we can find ways to start investing in domestic programs instead of subsidizing industries dependent on semi-rogue states (ex: Sudan has huge oil reserves) then we can really start looking to policy that suits the values of the country instead of trying to perpetually loosen the energy noose around our necks.

Sixth, re-evaluate expensive policies like the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs costs $15 billion per year for the state—not counting medical bills from overdose, the overcrowding of our prisons, and the long-term consequences of making felons of small-time holders. It is estimated that the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana could easily surpass that $15 billion and significantly reduce the societal ills involved. Further, it would also drastically change the state of affairs in our unstable neighbor Mexico. A whole war of immense proportions is going on down there. We spend huge amounts on border control, cartel suppression, and failed drug bust programs. America could not only save a boatload, it could ease many societal ills, and make money. Other policies that have been analyzed as lacking should also come under intense scrutiny and new courses of action should be taken as well.

The point of all this is that by opening up thinking on how the nation really secures its ideals and protects its citizens a variety of possible solutions arise that otherwise would not exist. I ask that to really make this country better we start looking toward a long-term approach. Afghanistan will not go away just because the troops disappear. Ditch the platitudes and get to work on some real ideas that take the complexities into account.

Security and Interests: The Situation

What is our role in the international arena? Secy. Robert Gates has stated that NATO is quickly becoming a relic of a time past because many of the member nations have lowered military spending to the point of near non-existence. Of the 15 European nations in NATO, only 5 are currently meeting the spending requirement of 2 percent or more (Albania is notably one of them). This leaves the majority of military spending to the United States. Regardless of one's position on military spending and how much of it we do (or should do), it is obvious that we have become—whether we like it or not—the world police force and overstretched on our obligations.

I think it is agreeable to most people in this country that in the ideal world we would not have to spend so much on our military, that the world would not need policing, and that we would have adequate resources to face any challenges that arose for this country—military or otherwise. With that being said, we can keep in mind that the ultimate goal of our national defense is really the continuation of our nation and its interests in a peaceful and prosperous manner. Now, re-examine how we go about doing that. Often it is in the form of many different programs and deployments of dubious success.

Take Pakistan. In this tumultuous nation, we have been operating in a not so clandestine manner to root out remaining Taliban and al-Qaida forces. Pakistan is officially an ally. With that in mind we have been using their land as a base of operations for attacks in Afghanistan, we ship supplies through their borders, and we have been working with their intelligence to capture or kill people of interest. But that's not all. Pakistan is politically quite unstable. The military largely calls the shots in the country and their loyalties sway based on prospective payout. That means they like to bet on winners and they bet on everyone. It is no secret that the military, and the government too, have been working with the Taliban as well as with the United States. The military is also in charge of a nuclear arsenal. This arsenal has been, admittedly by its own operatives, deemed insecure. This is a nation where extremists who do not pause at detonating a bomb strapped to their chests reside in a country where their allies could possibly give them access to long-range nuclear warheads.

Our Pakistani allies have also allowed for major breaches of their security that have threatened the entire world. A Q Khan, head Pakistani nuclear scientist, sold nuclear secrets to several rogue states. The attacks in the Mumbai hotels—a city in the world's most populous democracy—that left dozens dead originated in Pakistan and hatched their plot there—it is unclear how much knowledge or even support they had from the national government, but all evidence points to an excess of knowledge and blind-eye support.

Pakistan, in many respects, has gone rogue. And so we publicly call them our allies while operating within their borders as if the land were lawless. We use predator drones and attack in unsecured sectors of Pakistan's borders, we circumvent the government and military and kill Bin Laden, we put the country on a need-to-know basis. And this has strained the relationship significantly. Because they are allies, the country is entitled to aid. This aid money is supposed to be for the people, but in a country with such sticky hands on such slippery officials it has been estimated that only a fractional amount of every dollar actually goes to development. So Pakistan is an international policy sinkhole. America loses money, troops, and political clout in the area. It is the pinnacle of the complexities of being the sole country willing to get its hands dirty to secure the world and at the same time to have the resources to do so.

So, bring our troops home? Hell yes, of course we don't want to be stuck in a war where we keep losing young Americans to gunshots or PTSD. But is it realistic. Imagine the vacuum that occurs when a nation as unstable as Afghanistan resides next to a nation as nuclear as Pakistan and without any of the aid of America. What could possibly go wrong?

This is not an argument for the scaling up of our war machines, it is not even an argument for the maintenance of the status quo. That sucks. We have inconsistent results at far too high a price. We know that. This is a plea for a nuanced perspective and more expansive thinking about what our role is in this world and how we can maintain our interests and security at a lower cost.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Word Puke

It is father's day. None of my 8 illegitimate children even called to say hi. That's ok, I don't pay child support, they don't call—I get it.

I ate a ton of food today. Family does that. We talked about graduating and getting in shape, about having all this free time to just work out. Yeah, that happened.

I went to the Rose Garden in Washington Park. There was a wedding. It was in a cordoned off section of the park. A June wedding. Perfect day (except for the whole busy Father's Day bit). My grandfather just wandered into the wedding. Everyone else could see what it was—a wedding. He just walked in and walked around. And he can't hear, so no one could really call him back without disrupting it further.

I take a lot of pictures.

There was a gay pride parade downtown today. They caused a lot of traffic to build-up. My great aunt Marian got stuck in the traffic. She later said it was my gay uncles' faults. Even though they were at the house chilling.

I saw Super 8. It's like ET if the alien were three stories tall and ate people. Go for the child actors. They do a phenomenal job. Absolutely wonderful acting. I can't wait to hear what awesome drug addictions they get as they grow up.

I really want to see Midnight in Paris. It seems like a great movie where Owen Wilson does his goofy good-looking guy thing. Y'know, his chilled laid back, I'm not quite sure what I'm doing with my hair look. And Rachel McAdams gets to pretend she's not mainstream even though she totally is.

Bad looking movie: Rise of Planet of the Apes. The first and biggest question I have as the trailer goes on is where the hell did all these chimps come from. New York does not have a bunch just hanging around. And let's be honest, this is a cult classic that is getting tossed in the Hollywood washer. What's the Hollywood washer? It's a washer filled with shit. You throw your childhood whites in there and they come out covered in CGI brown stains and sold as an improvement. You have to pay a lot to get your whites ruined that way.

Flies don't hurt anyone, but they bug me. I shall hurt as few living things as possible and there isn't a strict moral reason to justify killing a fly. But I just want to so badly. Is that wrong?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Video: Ben Kills

My midterm project.  Is it a black comedy or a tragedy?  Who knows.  I think the apt description for it would be eerie.

Video: Kor Eats

A little look at the college life at 8 in the morning after crew practice.

Video: General Issue

This was my final video project.  It is was a crunchtime effort to make a video with some real thought behind it.  Basically it is my ruminations on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and my complete disconnection with their real effects.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Job Hunt

The things I have been doing to find a job. I think just to prove that it's a full-time job and that I should be getting compensated somehow.

Traveling: I have technically traveled from Boston to Albany to Reno to Portland to Seattle and many points in between in my search for a job. Traveling is good for multiple reasons. The first is the illusion of progress. Even though I'm going nowhere, I'm going somewhere. The second is the feel of the place; when I get a feel for where I am or where I have been I really feel much better about the future. The third is getting some fun out of life. Despite my poverty and lack of immediate prospects, traveling has shown me the world in a new light and I am happy to explore. Besides, if I did not travel, I would not have stumbled upon the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation building in Seattle.

Setting up profiles: it is amazing how many places are out there that have you sign-up for services or require that you are 'connected' somehow. The world is wired. Facebook, SkillPages, Idealist, LinkedIn, and much more. Should I get a Twitter? It seems like I will have to if I want to be hired. What a queer thought that I may have to type in <140 characters of nonsense to get hired for work of consequence.

Talking to people: I have dug into every connection I have—at least I plan to—and asked them about anything that may have some form of a sustainable income. It is tough work to connect, and e-mail, and ask, and plead, and basically beg to see what can be done about getting a job. I owe people a lot for every effort they put out. And I hope that wherever I end up that I can return the favor.

Searching for jobs: most of the hard work that I put in is finding a job that fits my qualifications and interests. There is no central database, and no one is out there looking for me. It is a desolate landscape where I holler into the distance and find many storefronts, all of which are closed. It is the search for that open door and the soft reply. But to even get there I must first seek out the different stores. They are in many places and hard to find, as if buried below rocks and sand.

Taking care of myself: I work out, I cook, I clean, I shower, I shave, I nap, I read. The unemployed life can be harsh, and respite is key to a successful search for me.

Applying for jobs: cover letters, resumes, edits, revisions, and pdfs. It is all part of the damn game. I am fed up and very ready to just start doing something good for the world instead of telling everyone that I can.

Fulfilling family obligations: I am living with Mama, she just had her birthday. I try to attend to her. I try to spend time with everyone that I can that is in Portland. It was the same in Reno. I don't know when the job search ends and when family obligations begin. I tried to spend time with my parents, my sisters, and my girlfriend. It is so hard to do it all and I feel I have failed in at least one respect.

Keeping it all in perspective: people say this is the most carefree and fun time of my life. I can't imagine what hardships come with a steady income, but they are obviously nasty. Except, no one seems to opt for my way of life—someone is lying or has deferred their dreams. Either way I seek not the land of mediocrity. Which makes it all so much harder.

And I continue to toil; on and on and on without end in sight. Soon I will be somewhere else but for now I travel this desert road, fuel running down, without a single sign of rest.

Passing Through

I want to consume the world. Or I want the world to consume me. Not sure which.

There are moments that I open up and I can feel it so much. It is a tingling sensation in my body, a radiating yellow-orange warmth. From there my body becomes part of the harmonious. The world passes gently through me, if only for a moment.

Today, on the lawn in the backyard, I felt the world for a moment. The sun burst through the clouds. The grass became a brilliant green. Mama's house was a colonial white, perfectly contrasted against the blue sky. Clouds drifted by. The trees shushed in the breeze. I sat on a faded pink blanket with Ciera and read my book. I drifted off and felt at peace.

Searching for jobs is a full-time job. I take the brief moments of respite in stride. I find comfort in the love that surrounds me. People I cherish, who are on this Earth for a limited but unspecified time, give me so much. Kerry happily lets me pet her, she is a cat who has aged without me noticing. She will disappear from this world far before I do. And I am happy to give her attention.

I helped Ciera with her monologue today. She recited it over and over to me. We worked out the kinks, found the human in the words on the page. Chekhov is nothing special; that is what makes him special. I did not understand it at first. But now I do. He is renowned because he captured it without trying, he let the world into him, and he gave it back just as it was. He put humanity on paper. And his writing is interesting because it is boring.

The world does not escape my notice; sometimes it passes through untouched—unfiltered. I am searching for significance, but maybe that's my problem. The art of transcending is one of not trying. But to do so, one must try very hard at first. It is a constant battle, a training that will come after the last shot has been fired, an effortless change that was there all along.

I know this, but I cannot make it part of my being, yet. The battle rages on but for the moments of peace behind the Maginot lines.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Seattle Center

Here I am. In Seattle. Right under the famed space needle. This place is so hip. If I were a hipster lesbian I couldn't imagine a cooler place to be. I am not one, and I fail to find many examples of a place I'd put above this one. I see it as proof of good regional planning.

Ciera and I got up this morning, cooked a breakfast, and made our way to Bremerton. An overcast day. There was a very slight chill. No more than a breeze. We toured Bremerton briefly then we got on the ferry and toured the city of Seattle. Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, City Center; it all passed before our eyes. My excitement for the area steadily rose to a fever pitch. We finally parked the car by the Experience Music Project in Seattle Center and walked around the area a bit.

Ciera is currently ushering for a New Works Festival at one of the theaters run by an Emerson Alum. Before we parted ways, we ate at Pagliacci Pizza, a local chain owned by a Skidmore Alum. I ventured my way around the park. The closed Intiman theater, Seattle Rep, the Fountain, the Space Needle. And in the main yard is Festival Sundiata. It is a showcase of African music and arts. It is surprisingly small. I feel I have missed the larger events.

About four, the sun opened up and the day became wonderful. A cooling breeze, the right humidity, and a cast of locals on the perfect scale of interesting. A couple smoked a joint behind me. Young families let their children hula-hoop on the lawn. A large woman with a walker screamed song lyrics at the top of her lungs while listening to headphones. Dread locked white dudes sunbathed.

And so my day has been an acquainting with a place I am unfamiliar with. A miniature culture-shock and a longing for the familiar. That is not to negate the power of the new. Everything I have seen today, especially the new stuff has been absorbed like a sponge and I can't wait to understand my surroundings. I want to live and work here. It seems like a great place to get started.

Tone and Voice (2x)

Tone:

The sea lion is a playful creature. It is often seen basking in the warm rays on a floating dock or swimming near rowers or kayakers. The sea lion lives in an environment rich in nutrients. To catch its prey, the cunning sea lion can swim at upwards of twenty miles per hour. Once it has targeted a fish it will chase it in ways that can at times seem playful: jumping out of the water, tossing the fish, and doing a series of underwater acrobatics just to eat.

Tragedy today as the underwater menace strikes again. Averaging 10 locals a day, the serial killer has been steadily making its way through an astounding number of victims. The killer is merciless and is not known to kill along any known divisions; none are safe, a salmon is the same as a rock fish is the same as a trout. There are no age factors either, small to large, this carnivorous beast has killed and consumed thousands this year. This once peaceful community has now been shattered by the angry exploits of the Sea Lion.

The beach house is one of the utmost forms of peace and relaxation. The sea lion is part of the peace that we find at the beach house. Its dog-like head appears occasionally in the waters in front of our house and has been known to swim with the kayak. The sea lion is yet another reason to come here.

Voice:

I've decided a few things. The first thing is that the children grew up one day—they became adults, sort of. And these adult children built cities and governments and institutions and laws. And this construction was like a Lego civilization. It was easily destroyed. So the children created traditions and stories, myths and religions to glue the pieces together. Some of this glue held together quite well; some did not. The glue, mind you, was evaluated on its effectiveness not on any logical reality. Every now and then the Lego tower starts to crumble, it gets a renovation, or new bits are added. Yet it is still made of Legos. One of these days we are going to graduate to brick and mortar and we'll build some strong foundations. We don't need to use the precedent set by the children that built this world to create our own. We can look at it all as if from an alien perspective, and try to build it back our way, without ego or ignorance. Call it spring cleaning.

When I grow up, I want to be me. I want to drop my ego, and get engaged. I want to be Buddha—hopefully for selfless reasons. But who knows; the mind is multi-faceted, where does the true self lie?

I need clarity—frankness. I can't fulfill obligations, help out, or even be out of the way if no one tells me. If people have a problem with me, I need to be approached directly. I can't read subtext as well as I thought.

I've decided that 365 words a day is sometimes difficult, and sometimes appallingly simple. The guidelines are important though because it keeps me on track to be wordy like Dickens (he was paid by the word btw).

I've decided I really miss all of my friends at Skidmore. Leaving was hard, and continues to be. I am in mourning whether I want to admit it or not. And sometimes I'm just not on my game because of it. I used to be a stable human being. A half year of changes can really turn that reality into its opposite.

Despite all this I know I'm happy. And I've decided that is important as well. I am happy and I am confident that the future will be cool (if only because in a thousand trillion years there will be almost no heat in the universe) and will almost certainly come (if it has not already passed).

So that's what I have decided. At least for now.

Fishing

I reeled in the trout. It was a beautiful fish with green on its back and speckles. It was a sleek creature, almost pure muscle. It put up a pretty decent fight; my line was strong though. I tried to be as gentle with it as possible. I knew that it would suck to have a hook in one's mouth.

I pulled it in quickly, every moment counted. If I didn't pull the trout in before it exhausted itself, it could very well kill itself by over-exerting. Once it was on shore I tried to secure it down quickly so it would not slam against the rocks. I did not want to kill or eat this fish. I merely wanted to relax on the shores of the beach with a rod and reel.

I called for Ciera to help me pull it in and let it out to sea. I was a novice at the catch and release game. I rarely pulled a fish in, and when I did they were bullheads; ugly creatures that could never die. But I think I did it all right. The fish squirmed beneath Ciera's grip. I got the pliers and tried to pull against the hook. The trout burst to life trying to escape. But I tried again. This time I grabbed the hook and pulled it out completely. The fish was free.

I picked up the trout and let it back into the ocean. Panicked and anxious, it disappeared into the briny waves that lapped at the worn rocks of the shore. I cast my line one more time that day, but the knot at the end of the hook was frayed and the lure flew off into the water. I had pushed my luck and would not be fishing again.

We built a small fire on the beach; watched the sunset. If I could bring everyone to this place I would. Serenity exists somewhere around the stark white pillars, the perfect lawn, the wooden swings, the blackberry bushes, the cool breeze, the gorgeous sunsets that last forever. Paradise can be found.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Word Vomit

Ciera and I were watching TV just now, and the printer just started randomly printing. It was odd.

Ciera just suggested that I write in large font and repeat “hi grandpa” until I hit 365 words for today's entry. I don't think that really counts.

Weiner sent pictures of his bulge via sext. Here's the thing, only our distinguished representatives can use the pick-up line, “come back to my place and I'll show you my member of congress.”

I never was really a fan of Cars. Cars 2 looks like the only Pixar movie that will suck.

Commercials don't make sense to me. If you think of everything in terms of believability and randomness; commercials are just freaking odd. You have thirty seconds to tell a story and very subtly or obnoxiously obviously sell crap to America. Go. I think I'd like to do that perhaps.

We should fund NASA better. Some of the coolest innovation and knowledge we have came from our National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

I think a cool ad campaign would be a “that guy” campaign. Holding up the line with a complicated order and lot's of questions, oh, you're 'that guy'.

My children will all sing in unison together and dress in adorable costumes. They will be child stars. And I will exploit them accordingly. Part Asian singing children are so cute your head will explode. Be prepared for the real end of the world when that happens.

Even if global warming is not man caused, that doesn't stop 50% of the American population from being in severe danger of suddenly drowning one day. It's like building a house on the beach at low tide, saying that the tide that is coming in isn't your fault doesn't stop it from flooding your kitchen. Think about that.

Paul Revere warned the British with his bells and whistles, shooting and hollering.

Bud Light bought 2 cruise ships, a private island, and tons in ad-space. Glad extreme poverty has been solved, otherwise Americans would look like jerks.

Apparently Weiner's weiner is like a hairless dog. Least there's no ambiguity about looking at it.

I want to design things. I believe that most stuff is overpriced, poorly built, and ugly. I think that can be fixed.

Ashton Kutcher is like a cardboard cut-out. He doesn't take up much space and sometimes he even improves the scenery. But most of the time the whole space would be better without the extra clutter.

Local commercials are even weirder than national commercials because the contrivances are out in full force without the production values as a disguise.

I'm tired of hearing about how China is rising. It's an enormous bubble of underpaid ethnic children laborers. And it is going to pop like a diseased yellow pus-filled welt on the forehead of the world.

I'm really excited to realize my potential. I'm a ball at the top of a hill, ready to roll, full of potential energy.

Words I like lately. Impertinent, vacillate, esoteric, exceedingly, exceptionally, nebulous, perhaps, thus, therefore, untenable, impervious, salacious, celebrate.

I'm esoteric.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Oregon Trail 3

It suddenly became overcast. The air was still warm, the hills still green, but the sky was a gentle gray. I didn't think much of it, we were entering the final phase of our journey to Portland, and we would have to pass through the worst part of Oregon first—Salem.

Before the beautiful city of Portland there is the metro area of Salem, Oregon. This area is kind of industrial and agricultural. There are few buildings except granaries, factories, large parking lots, and adult shops. The landscape suddenly becomes flat, an almost eerie lack of texture becomes the motif of this section. Despite all this, it was still beautiful. The pastures that spread before me on both sides of the highway were lush green. We passed a dilapidated barn. The style, a steeply sloped roof and a rectangular base was a common one we had seen all along our journey. Even in its state of disrepair it had a sort of picturesque beauty to it.

A field of yellow flowers appeared before us. I tried to process the dense patches of plants. They were so thick that they looked like a mat of yellow. But I couldn't distinguish individual plants at all, it was just a bright yellow. Then the clouds opened up on the field; yellow light on yellow flowers, it was a visual experience in a land that I otherwise had written off as boring and featureless.

I opened my eyes to the seeming nothingness again. Perhaps I had been missing something. We passed a pasture. It was dotted with hundreds of sheep. They grazed quietly as we made our way north.

We were making good time though. We cruised through Salem and arrived early in Portland. We walked into my Aunt Nan's house and she greeted us heartily. She then proceeded to dote on us over every little detail she could manage to procure in the form of investigative questions. It is nice to be interrogated—now I at least know a few things about my future that I did not before. I can't remember what those details were though...so maybe I don't really know anything new about my future.

She took us to eat Japanese food. It was nice to be with Nan and Paul for a little bit. Catch up with the family, shoot the bull, and happily eat food. I was in Portland. My future was starting.

Oregon Trail 2

I took a shift driving and passed semi-trucks carrying a variety of goods. All of them travel 5 to 10 below what I would like to move at. The windy roads turned into long straight aways, and finally into a large interstate. At each leg we seemed to encounter some form of road construction. The country is rebuilding, but for now it just slows me down. We passed along the base of the Mt. Shasta; it was covered in clouds that were caught against its large and monolithic face.

Then it was the passage into Portland. Freight truck activity increased markedly. We were now on the major corridor between Portland and California. As I crested the hill and descended into Ashland, Ciera awoke from her nap and I pointed out the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Sign as well as several other significant landmarks. Coming over the hill of Mt. Ashland is always a stunning experience. The driver is dropped into a model train set. Rolling green hills with perfectly spaced patches of forest and open fields, cute farm homes and tiny towns; it is opening to Walt Whitman's America. A beautiful green lake, a hawk flying overhead—it is the natural beauty that the pioneers were searching for. The thing they would cross a dangerous country just for a glimpse of. And our eyes were treated to it.

We stopped in a tiny diner and grabbed a little snack. It was not an ordinary diner. Bad art adorned the walls, but this bad art was unique in that one of the owners of the diner was the painter. The waitress was friendly and we were one of six people in the place at the time. One was an old timer in a pastel green sport coat and clean white new sneakers. He seemed slightly bewildered. But I believe we all are, he was honest about it.

Then we were back on the road, singing along to my iPod. The green of the area was something I was unaccustomed to. Normally we come through when the hills are a golden color, where the plant life has lost a bit of its sheen. Today it was out in full force. Fields of wildflowers in lavender, white, and bright yellow delighted me. Beautiful oak groves followed the contours of the hills. We had passed the half-way point but I would have been happy to drive forever.

Oregon Trail 1

A good day to travel. We started out on the Oregon Trail at about nine in the morning. Leaving was hard to describe. Basically I got packed, kind of ate, drank a cup of coffee, put all the stuff in the car and was suddenly on the road. It all happened naturally. Almost too much so. My mother cried, and everyone got to take pictures, but everything happened with an out of body quality. It just happened. It was almost as if I was being dragged by fate forward. Not that I'm complaining. It was good to have things move smoothly.

I'm not sure how smoothly they really happened though. I'm sure Ciera has a different perspective. She worked really hard and got everything moving. I'm almost positive that the fate I referred to earlier was a determined sense of drive emanating from Ciera. Which is good. I love being home, but I certainly don't want to be there forever.

The weather beckoned to us. Patchy clouds cast shadows over the Reno valley, a spring-like breeze swept the smells of the desert by my nose in delightful waves. It was time to go. We got on the road and opened our eyes to a world in a different perspective—a world that was free of any responsibility but the ones we impose on ourselves.

The world was different. I realized it somewhere past Hallelujah junction. I had no lens on. Before the world felt safe, fuzzy, and protected. Everything now felt clear, in sharp contrast, like a cool wind brushing against my cheek—a cold glass of water.

The weather was in love with us. I couldn't romanticize it if I tried. The weather was perfect without the additives of rhetorical flourishes. The desert was a brilliant spectrum. Blue skies and crisp clouds, Snow in the jagged peaks of the mountains. The foothills were maroon and sea green—a beautiful mixture that showcased a perfectly watered desert. Normally dry riverbeds flowed with cold alpine waters, cattle and horses (brown, cream, mottled, and black) grazed peacefully as we passed different ranch lands.

At Susanville we made the transition to the evergreen forests of the Northern Sierra Nevada mountain range. The colors there took a different twist. The dirt turns a red-orange brown. The bark on the many varieties of evergreen conifers has a well-defined texture and exhibits every shade of brown imaginable. The leaves on the trees, however, are a deep green that make one think of the perfect pine forest. We climbed into the mountains, passing shallow mountain lakes and logging trucks. At the edge of the descent down one of the passes, we stopped at a scenic vista and looked out on the volcanic basin of Lassen park. The whole area had a deep black dirt, the rich soil and rocks from mellenia of volcanic activity. This was sharply contrasted by Burney mountain and the distant Mt. Shasta that rose thousands of feet above the valley floor where the road was. The two peaks were covered in a solid white, no doubt the product of the extra moisture that hit the West not two days previous.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Viral Patriot

Going Viral.

Sarah Palin continues to astound and attract media attention for saying stupid things. This time she forgot that Paul Revere—well she basically forgot everything (if she ever learned it in the first place). Go ahead, look it up. I'm sure it will get plenty of play. People love a high profile slip-up. I don't really want to bad mouth Sarah too much. She is a person after all, and she does deserve some amount of respect.

What I can't figure out is how she blatantly speaks without thinking. I appreciate her “off the cuff” style, but this world is full of nuance that she not only seems to ignore, but gets completely wrong as well. While it may not be required to know what side Revere was on in the American Revolution in order to be elected to high office, I seriously question what patriotism means to someone who cannot identify the achievements of one of the country's greatest patriots. Patriotism is not just a household word you can throw around to disguise an argument. It means something.

I feel that the term has been co-opted to hide from legitimate debate on serious subjects. Just as invoking Hitler into argument clearly leads us astray from valuable discourse. As an American citizen, born and raised in the most powerful nation in the world, I feel it is my duty to live up to certain standards of conduct.

I must have a public consciousness. I must be informed as to our founding documents and their underlying philosophy. I must vote freely, and make my decisions based on an array of criteria, not a single issue that can be boiled down to “hope” or “4 more years”. There is no substance in voting for a slogan. We are the American people, we are known for our cunning, independent thought and action, bravery, and even-handedness. At least I would hope we are.

Jefferson argued for the yeoman farmer because he believed that the farmer could vote in an informed and conscious manner, despite the farmer's education. We now have a far higher level of education, yet we have somehow neglected our public duties. We can tweet all about Sarah's blunders, but we do not know the third amendment to the constitution. The government is not obligated to give us an education, but it does. And we tend to reject it as big government. The truth is that the government will have to exist in some form, to continue our current structures. Our public consciousness cannot rest on the size of the government or who is in power. Rather there should be a social awareness, where we freely discuss the ramifications of our words and actions. And that social sphere can remain independent of our government, the free and critical exchange of ideas makes this nation run. If 2 heads are better than 1, 310 million must surely have some value.

President has few qualifications, but being a patriot of this nation requires more than a catch-phrase. It requires the drive to understand our past, understand our current issues, and to look to the future as a way to make everything better, even if just a tiny bit.

Home Friends

I saw my friends from high school. It's been a great time. Seeing a group of people I have known for 8 years now is enlightening. Aside from a very few individuals, I haven't known many people for longer than 4 years.

There is a sort of impermanence to my life that I am always trying to reconcile with my desire to find the permanent. My journey often feels like it is full of turns and odd directions, staccato signals that peak in prominence suddenly; a burst of color out of the noise, and fade gently back into the stream. The stream, the noise, remains constant, and unimpeded. To fade into the noise is not necessarily bad; the constant flow reminds me of my transient state. I am here for a short time.

And so my life feels like I am sitting on a porch on a sunny day, looking out at the water as the waves gently riffle along the shore. And sometimes it is punctuated by events, people, things that make the world briefly more colorful and energetic. Each part has a purpose, it rounds out my being, giving me the spectrum.

My friends feel that way. Punctuations of energy. Beams of light that pull me like an electron up to higher levels of energy and experience. My friends open up new worlds, remind me of the old, and patiently give me their time and energy to grow alongside me.

Coming home and finding those old rays of light, those bursts of energy, constant and unchanging in their own way, was a comfort. It made me happy to see them, to catch up, joke around, and make plans for the future. It has been far too long since my life intersected heavily with these people, yet they remain, for me, so important and integral to it.

It is always surprising to hear what they have to say, see where they plan on going, and hear what I have missed. I know I have not kept up like I should have, I know I have not maintained my friendships with as much tenacity as was possible, but I do know that they have opened their arms to me as always said that it is good enough.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Econ and Philosophy

One of the major things I learned in economics was that the world, according to economists, can be reduced to equations. These equations range significantly in complexity, but the end result is always the same. A series of numbers and symbols that represent the state of affairs in the world. For these equations to be in balance, the relative number of each symbol has to adjust accordingly. The idea is that the inputs equal the outputs and there is always a trade-off.

When the world is reduced to numbers, messy things like emotions, suffering, and irrational choices do not have to be accounted for. In a lot of respects, that is what we call the western perspective. The western way, leads to western development schemes, and western philosophy, and western democracy. Eventually the hope is that there will be a uniform way of doing things that leads to a rational world where our economic systems function perfectly.

Of course that isn't the case. And I fundamentally believe that the problem lies in our basic units of measurement in economics—money, utility, and productivity. Utility is supposed to mean happiness, and it is quantified as a precise unit. Money is of course any form of currency that is used to exchange goods and services. And productivity is how we measure output versus input, the lower our inputs and the higher our outputs, the better our productivity.

This works great in helping economists balance out their equations. There is a certain amount of precision involved in worlds where the very intangible actions that we do everyday result in more money, productivity, and utility. There is also something fundamentally missing from using those measurements.

To some degree, modern philosophies of development have tried to alter that perspective. The Human Capabilities Approach and the Sustainable Development Approaches to development and economic systems look at a wider range of criteria for judging the effectiveness of an economic system or program, but they have little to offer in terms of restructuring macro-scale economic structures or even to influence the underlying philosophy.

So here is my proposal for how I believe economists and economic policy should always be evaluated. First, money, productivity, and utility should be evaluated not as entities in themselves, rather they should be looked at like words—descriptive bits. These bits provide insight into what the meaning of the word is, for example an apple, but it does not add anything to the actual noun. An apple is an apple and will continue to be one irrespective of what a human calls it. In the same respect these units of measurement—over simplifying reality—represent a nation, a state, a structure, and fundamentally a human. We seek, through analysis and policy recommendations to constantly improve the human condition. Economics, the study of how we deal with standardized transactions, was created to better understand how to improve our lives through these systems. To make policy recommendations without regard to that piece, we miss the greater goal.

It is not idealism to understand that economics is not just a study of what is, but also of policy recommendation. That means that the field uses the scientific method to evaluate the present and make not just accurate predictions about the future but also to make policy recommendations that can be followed. If we sacrifice higher employment for higher “productivity” (an absurd equation of measurement that puts jobs in conflict with output) then we miss the greater point. The point of economics is to understand our transactions to improve our quality of life. Money is not a precise measurement of happiness, and the vague way that we quantify utility is not a real measurement of my quality of life. So what do I propose?

I'm not sure, perhaps I am proposing that economics modify its stated goals. That perhaps it pursues a different line of thought. Perhaps economics should really be the study of standardized transactions and how those transactions can modify the quality of life for individuals, groups, and nations. I'm not a neo-marxist, I'm not trying to overthrow any established systems. I suppose I am asking for open-mindedness. Chemistry was not initially the study of atoms and how they interact together; it evolved with the discovery that atoms are the building blocks of the materials that they sought to manipulate and understand. Open-mindedness is the biggest virtue of science; a willingness to change. Economics to continue as a respected social science, in line with the scientific method, should at least be willing to experiment with its potential as an agent for change and deeper understanding. Economics is not the study of equations and numbers, vaguely and incompletely symbolizing the human condition, rather it is the study of how the transactional institutions we have set up affect our lives in both a positive and negative way.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Contax 139Q

It's difficult to look at a complex problem through a pinhole.

I methodically removed another set of screws and part of the body and cover. A little bit more of the enigma was revealed. Underneath the smooth case, the plastic body that had very few marks or guide points, a covering built to keep the workings safe, lay an intricate mess of gears, wires, and clockwork pieces. I examined them carefully. I traced the mechanical motions, the switches that were flipped, and the cogs that were turned. Everything, if it was working right, would execute in a smooth pop click in 1/1000th of a second.

As it was, I had installed batteries and gotten the little red lights to flash in the viewfinder, raising my hopes. I trudged on, taking a look at the machinery. I could tell that there were lots of pieces I couldn't see. Little moving parts, intricately arranged to capture a moment without pause. I was starting to dig deeper into their functions. When I pressed the shutter release button, a small electrical signal would activate the mirror, which would set of a chain reaction that opened the shutter, closed the iris, locked the film, and allowed the roll to be cranked forward. It would then turn a dial that registered the number of exposures that had been taken. The entire working would do so at a rate varying from whenever I wanted to 1/1000th of a second.

I had unwittingly found myself at the dining room table, the clouds rolling in and darkening the valley, while I scattered tiny screws and tightly fitting pieces around me. As I undid the puzzle the workings became more confusing. I would only have a tiny window into what I could only assume was the actual problem. But I couldn't quite see in—it seemed I was closer. But who knows when I could only see into through a pinhole with a tiny pen light?

It started to rain outside, the wind was a constant hiss outside. I realized that my technical skills did not extend to an ability to fix my camera. I resigned myself to not solving the problem for the day. I carefully put each screw back in place, exhausted and not much more illuminated. Sometimes things take more time, and puzzles don't get solved immediately. A solution would present itself later, I wasn't worried.